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Brooke Astor's son accused of fraud

Philanthropist Brooke Astor's son was charged with plundering his mother's $198 million (133.12 million EUR) estate and conspiring to have the Alzheimer's-stricken socialite sign a new will leaving her fortune to him.

An indictment unsealed Tuesday charges Broadway producer Anthony Marshall, 83, with grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, scheme to defraud, falsifying business records, offering a false instrument for filing and conspiracy. Marshall's former attorney, Francis X. Morrissey Jr., was indicted on charges of forgery, criminal possession of a forged instrument, scheme to defraud and conspiracy.

"The indictment charges that Marshall and Morrissey took advantage of Mrs. Astor's diminished mental capacity in a scheme to defraud her and others out of millions of dollars," said District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

As early as 2001, Astor's doctors had told Marshall that his mother suffered from Alzheimer's disease, that her ability to understand complex issues was limited, and that her condition would worsen, Morgenthau said.

Three years later, the prosecutor said, Marshall and Morrissey conspired to have Astor's attorney fired, and to have her sign an updated will which left Marshall virtually everything.

Morrissey also is charged with participating in the forgery of Astor's signature on that will, said Morgenthau. He did not explain how the signature was forged.

Marshall's lawyer rejected the accusations.

"Tony Marshall faithfully and effectively managed his mother's affairs for more than 25 years, increasing the value of her investments from $19 million to $82 million," Kenneth Warner said said in a statement.

"Brooke Astor loved Tony, her only child, and whatever he received was in accordance with her wishes. Just as the original claims of `elder abuse' were found to have no basis, we're confident that when all facts are known, Mr. Marshall will be exonerated," it said.

Marshall's son, Philip, prompted the criminal investigation last year after he accused his father of neglecting Astor's care and stealing her money. Astor died in August at age 105.

Anthony Marshall, a former diplomat and Tony award winning producer, has said that he cared about her more than anyone else. If convicted of the most serious charge, grand larceny, he could be sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Marshall and Morrissey also were accused in a lawsuit filed by Philip Marshall of misappropriating cash, real estate, securities and other property belonging to Astor.

Astor, known for decades as the grande dame of New York society and philanthropy, gave away nearly $200 million (134.46 million EUR) to institutions such as the New York Public Library, Carnegie Hall and other causes.

In the final year of her life, the nasty family feud over her care was splashed all over the city's tabloids - including allegations that she was forced to sleep in a torn nightgown on a couch that smelled of urine while subsisting on a diet of pureed peas and oatmeal.

Astor's friends, Annette de la Renta, the wife of designer Oscar de la Renta, and David Rockefeller, the banker and philanthropist, both signed affidavits supporting Philip Marshall's claims.

The grand jury heard testimony for almost a month on how Marshall and Morrissey managed Astor's estate and documents related to it. Philip Marshall, a professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, testified before the grand jury, according to his spokesman, Frazier Seitel.

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